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Effective Employee Onboarding Process [How To + Sample Checklist]

If you’re worried about how to get the right people to build your team or dream company, you’re not alone. PwC’s recent annual Global CEO survey found that 77% of CEOs are concerned that key skills shortages are damaging their companies’ growth. And for years now, the headlines have been proclaiming today’s high-tech world is dominated by an ongoing ‘war for talent’.

In this competitive environment, many companies are understandably investing heavily in the hiring process. But while it’s critical to find the right people, that’s only the first step. Research by the Harvard Business Review has shown that one third of new hires look for another job within their first six months. If you don’t keep your star talent engaged and supported once they’re hired, it could end up costing you up to three times their annual salary to recruit, hire and train someone else. So how do you prevent the nightmare of spending countless hours and dollars finding the perfect fit, bringing them into the company, training them, and then having them resign within the first year?

The answer is employee onboarding.

 

part 1

WHAT IS EMPLOYEE ONBOARDING?

The first thing to understand about employee onboarding is that it’s not just training or the administrative tasks of setting up a desk or a computer. Your team or your company has a defined mission, culture and set of values that new employees won’t be familiar with. If you think about hiring a valued employee like building a long-term relationship, then expecting them to leap straight into working with your team after hiring and training is like expecting someone to commit to marriage after the first few dates.

The onboarding process is about cultivating the personal link, or what has been dubbed ‘organizational socialization’. It’s about introducing your new hires into the team or company in a structured way that helps them to understand and engage with your mission and learn how to work in your company’s unique culture and environment. As Michel Falcon, the founder of Experience Academy puts it: “Employee onboarding is the design of what your employees feel, see and hear after they’ve been hired.”

For all its simplicity, the employee onboarding process is powerfully effective in increasing employee retention and engagement. The Society of Human Resources found that a structured onboarding program increased the likelihood that employees would stay at a company up to three years by 69%. This doesn’t even count the other benefits of an employee onboarding program, such as maintaining your company’s culture through the organizational socialization and increasing engagement and productivity. Indeed, a Recruiting Roundtable study found that a great onboarding process can improve employee performance by up to 11.5%.

So with that in mind, let’s have a look at how to design an effective onboarding process.

If the employee onboarding process is building the foundations for a long-term relationship, then it helps to understand what you want the house to look like before you start digging. Consider how your team or your company currently works. What is your mission? How do you work toward it? How do you prefer to communicate? What are the most important values to you when you problem solve? Why are you looking to hire another person, and how do you want them to work with the rest of the team or company?

Understanding how you work and what’s important to your team is vital in not only identifying and hiring someone who will be a good fit, it also helps you to design your onboarding process:

  • Mission:

    You likely have both a company mission and a more specific departmental or team mission. Consider the best way to introduce these missions to your new hire, get them involved and engaged, and start the process of organizational socialization. If your mission is all about creating a fantastic, high quality product, a visit to the manufacturing site or a video explaining all the thought and technical details behind the design may be a good way to show your new employee what you’re all working toward. Similarly, if you’re a customer-focused company or department, perhaps arranging a meeting with a model client or focus group might leave a lasting impression and inspire a commitment in a way that no written company policy document can.

  • Culture:

    If your team is very social and not particularly hierarchical, a great way to start building the relationship might be to invite your new hire out to a fun team lunch. On the other hand, depending on the team and the seniority or personality of the new hire, a one-on-one lunch may be more effective, allowing you to get a feel for how they work, ease them into the team, and also show them how important their success in the company is to you as a leader.

  • Values:

    Your values should shape how you work and tackle your company’s and your team’s missions, which means they should be integrated into how you train your new hires and help them through the process of organizational socialization. Instead of just providing a company statement or list of values to read, consider organizing your training program by values. For example, if one of your values is to work through collaboration, you can introduce all the ways in which your company lives that value, such as the special collaboration and brainstorming spaces in the office and the way your team leaders’ open door policies work.

You’ll notice that nearly all of the examples above are experiences or activities. But that doesn’t mean we don’t think these things should be written down. Experiences give people a great first impression, but exact details can also be easy to forget. At the same time, we’ve never come across an employee who read the employee handbook from cover to cover! That’s why at Status, we think it works best to create a specific employee onboarding guide that you can add to and that employees can always return to and search for specific information.

 

part 2

Start Your Onboarding Program Before Day One

If the onboarding process is about creating an employee experience and personal connection with your company, then it begins the moment they accept your company’s offer of employment. Some incredibly brand-conscious employers who fight hard in the battle for talent even take this time to go the extra step and ‘wow’ their new hires. In his article on ‘extreme onboarding’, Dr. Sullivan recounts the story of a New Zealand bank who shipped their welcome package, complete with business cards, a new computer and a mobile phone, to their new employee’s current workplace. E-commerce retailer Zappos makes a similarly bold move: at the end of their five-week employee onboarding course, they offer their newly-trained employees $2,000 to leave if they’ve decided they’re not the right fit to send a clear message about the importance of culture.

You don’t have to go quite this far. But if you want to join the ranks of companies like Google, Facebook, Rackspace and Netflix who rely on the talent and creativity of their employees, then investing in structured onboarding is a great first step. Here’s an onboarding checklist that you can use as a guide.

Employee Onboarding Checklist: Before the First Day

  1. Organize Paperwork and Administration:

    The fastest way to dim the excitement of starting a new job is a pile of paperwork, and nothing says a company doesn’t care more bluntly than a new hire arriving on their first day to find no desk or equipment waiting for them. From the moment they say ‘yes’, start reaching out and sending them the required paperwork and administrative information they’ll need to get started, so they’re all set for their first day.

  2. Send a Reminder:

    Google’s data has revealed one powerful practice that can accelerate a new employee’s time to productivity by 25%. All they do is remind the new hire’s manager the day before they start to consider doing five things: discuss roles and responsibilities, partner them with a mentoring buddy, introduce them to the team, check in at least once a month for the first six months, and encourage open dialogue. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get people thinking about creating an effective onboarding experience.

     

  3. Communicate:

    Radio silence is hardly a substitute for an enthusiastic welcome, and people like to know what to expect. So as we discussed above, make sure your new employee knows what their first day will look like and the general structure of the onboarding program. You can also use this opportunity to send them an onboarding guide and resources they can browse through. Susan Vitale from iCIMS, a hiring software company, suggests sharing a video or links about company culture or from the CEO explaining expectations and the company mission, or having a mentor call through directly to have a chat.

Onboarding Checklist: The First Day

The first day sets the tone for what you want to be a successful, productive, long-term professional relationship. So resist the temptation to dive straight into explaining complex policies or long trainings. Instead:

  1. Give Context:

    Focus on explaining the company’s mission and how the different teams and departments work together, the schedule for the next few weeks, and how their role fits within the team’s goals.

  2. Get Social:

    The first day is the time to set them up with a buddy or mentor and have a one-on-one team lunch to get to know each other. It’s also the perfect time to take them for an office tour and introduce them to everyone. And don’t stress if you manage a virtual team or have people spread out across a few offices, you can still reach out through technology to introduce and connect someone with the team.

  3. Help Them Acclimatize:

    It can be disorienting getting dropped into an entirely new environment, so walk them through some basic day-to-day things such as where the bathroom is and where to park.

Onboarding Checklist: The First Week

A third of employees decide whether or not they will stay with a company long-term by the end of their first week. So week one is where you’ll want to start introducing work and goals alongside training, so they can visualize the road ahead.

  1. Provide Resources and Training:

    Step them through vital IT procedures and systems and also any business applications or software they will need to fulfill their role. It also helps to provide them with access to a knowledge database that they can refer to after training for more details.

     

  2. Start Development:

    Discuss their development and performance goals and explain how your company invests in learning and development. You can also start setting specific onboarding goals with them that you can review over the next few months. If you’re looking for ideas, a great place to start is our detailed guide on Performance Management for the Digital Age.

  3. Assign Work:

    Start giving your new hire some initial tasks so they can get a feel for the type of work they will be doing. Make sure they know they can reach out to their buddy or yourself if they have any questions or need support. You can also get them started on Daily or Weekly Reports so they have a structured way to let you know how they’re going and ask for help.

     

Onboarding Checklist: The First Six Months

Don’t think that the onboarding process is over with the first week! As we’ve discussed, onboarding a new employee is like forming a new long-term relationship. That’s why the first six months is perfect for continuing to guide them as they settle in.

  1. Schedule Regular One-on-one Meetings:

    We can’t get enough of one-on-one meetings. They are the perfect tool for regularly checking in on your new employee, letting them know you care, and providing them an opportunity to ask for help and also receive feedback on their goals and performance. Many experts recommend having at least monthly one-on-one meetings with new team members, but depending on your own personal style and how closely you like to work with your team, you could easily make them fortnightly or even weekly.

  2. Continue Training:

    People will remember training better if you spread it out, so rather than stuffing all your training sessions into the first week, spread them out across the first few months. This also gives you the opportunity to gradually ramp up the training detail and complexity and tailor the program to help support them as they start to get more involved with work.

Onboarding Checklist: At the End of the First Year

  1. Schedule a Review Meeting:

    We’re not a fan of annual performance reviews because of all the research that shows how ongoing performance feedback is much more powerful. But it’s still a good idea to schedule a meeting to discuss and review their achievements, how the year’s gone, what they’ve learned, and what new goals they’d like to pursue.

  2. Celebrate:

    They’ve made it to a year! That’s definitely worthy of celebration. One year is a great time to take them out for another celebratory team lunch or even just to acknowledge them in a team or company-wide message.

     

There’s also no need to feel unnecessarily constrained by the one-year mark. If you decide to push out your onboarding process for longer, you’ll be in good company: both L’Oreal and IBM’s onboarding program lasts for two years. But by this stage, employee onboarding has likely become the ongoing process of developing and engaging your employees and supporting them to do the best they can. For more information on this, you can see our detailed guide on Performance Feedback and Servant Leadership.

Ask for Feedback on your Onboarding Process

By now, you’ve got a meaningful, structured employee onboarding program that is tailored to your company’s mission, culture and values. But in the fast-paced world where 23% of new hires leave before their first work anniversary, you can stay ahead of your competition in the war for talent by constantly improving on and investing in your onboarding process. So set up a system from Day One asking for feedback on how to create a better process or tailor the onboarding program to your employee. With Status, you can set it up so it regularly reminds both you and your employee to think about how to improve the onboarding process.

Like all good things, it takes time to build a long and meaningful professional relationship with your employees. But it’s time well spent. Let your competitors stress about finding and keeping the right people in today’s fluid, high-turnover world. If you keep yourself armed with an ever-improving, tailored onboarding process carefully designed to integrate new hires into your company’s unique culture and way of work, you’ll already be light years ahead.

Tip: onboarding doesn’t just benefit employees and companies, it can also benefit your clients. Read about how to onboard your clients here.